Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

James Jesus Angleton: CIA Spy Hunter

The Education of a Spy Hunter



James Jesus Angleton was born in Boise, Idaho, in 1917, grew up in Ohio, and moved to Italy with his family when he was 14. His father, a former cavalry officer who had served under General John G. Pershing in Mexico, sent his first-born son to Malvern, a prestigious British public school. In England, Angleton adopted the ways of a British upper-class schoolboy, which shaped his thinking and dictated his personal style throughout his life. He always played down the fact that his mother was Mexican and Roman Catholic, and that she had chosen his middle name (with the Spanish pronunciation) as an affirmation of her faith. Angleton seldom used his middle name.

In 1937, he returned to America and entered the freshman class at Yale. Tall, slender, and darkly handsome, he was often mistaken for a European, and his self-confidence and maturity impressed everyone who met him. He was not an outstanding student and received poor grades, but his passion was poetry. He served as editor of the Yale literary magazine, Furioso, which published the work of such renowned poets as Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings.

In college, Angleton began to suffer from insomnia, a problem that haunted him his entire life. Unable to rest, he would often play poker or dice until the sun rose and he could start another day.

A younger James Jesus Angleton
A younger James Jesus Angleton

After graduating from Yale, he was accepted into Harvard Law School but only spent a year there, just long enough to court Cicely D'Autremont, a 19-year-old coed from Vassar. They married in 1943, but with World War II raging in Europe, Angleton was drafted into the Army just weeks after the ceremony. Angleton's father and one of his Yale professors used their influence to get him a position with the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA, working in the cryptically named X-2, the OSS's counterintelligence unit. His training for the job concentrated on ways to keep secrets safe, as well as the craft of counterespionage, identifying and neutralizing double agents, individuals who swear their allegiance to the United States when in fact they are secretly working for the enemy.

A few days before Christmas 1943, Corporal James Angleton left for London, where he was assigned to X-2's Italian unit. At the time, Cicely was pregnant with their first child.

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